Stories from the Studio: Mary Owen a Retrospective

This week STA met with sisters Jo and Lucy Bulter to talk about the work of their mother Mary Owen. We met with Lucy at a storage facility in Moss Vale where a treasure trove of their mother’s work is stored.

Mary Owen was a prolific artist who worked mainly with paint and printmaking processes. Some twenty years after her death her daughters Jo and Lucy are bringing her legacy of work together for a retrospective exhibition at the Bowral Art Gallery. They have also published a book that shows the depth and breadth of their mother’s creative achievements.

The exhibition, Unveiling the Private Art Practice of Mary Owen, has led Lucy and Jo to uncover diaries and hundreds of works, including prints, drawings and oil paintings. A process that the sisters have liken to ‘having a conversation with Mary’.

Mary Owen’s practice was private but extensive, textured, layered, and rich. The works are abstract entwined with symbolism and autobiographical markings. The work mirrors the time, politics, space, and Mary’s personal struggles. Her incredible courage and determination throughout her life is evident through her work and writings: Mary translated her struggles into creative expressions.

Despite an established reputation across the art world much of the work is being exhibited for the first time. A visit to the exhibition is a rare opportunity to see works from the families’ private collections.

The retrospective exhibition coincides with the launch of an art book which includes Mary’s art and contributing words from established Australian artists. The artistic community and beyond have come together to celebrate this work and Jo and Lucy, both of whom have their own creative practises, can’t wait to share this collection with the wider world.

Mary Owen worked at Moss Vale TAFE, local schools and the Berrima District Art Society as an art teacher. However she was a very private artist. Only those who knew her well were aware of her prolific art practice. She has art diaries and diaries for every year of her life and we have been storing hundreds of art works in Moss Vale.

Find out more, insta @maryowenartist Facebook @maryowenartist

Don’t miss the show at Bowral Art Gallery
Unveiling the Private Art Practice of Mary Owen
18th – 25th February 2024
11am on Sunday 18th February
Bowral Art Gallery, 1 Short Street, Bowral
Open 10am -5pm.

“Autobiographical … layering of memory and feelings … concealed writings … like allowing the viewer fragments of glimpses into my thoughts … reading between the lines … and then the final work contained in edges and boundaries … qualities of light and colour … structure … surface … gesture … these are some words that describe my work to me whether they be my portraits or my abstractions.”
Mary Owen 2002

Words of thanks from Lucy and Jo…

We would like to thank in advance the incredible community we have around us that has given us so much support. This includes first our little families Maiki and Ezra, Matteo, Leonardo, and Diego. They have seen this project take over our lives but have supported us the entire way through. We could not have started this project without them.

 To Mum’s parents Ann and Bill Owen: Your love and laughter have been a light in our lives. And to her siblings Frank, Louise, Charlie and Sarah: we are lucky to have such a diverse and creative family and thank you for your never-ending support. 

To the artists Mirabel FitzGerald, Andrew Kavunenko, Elisabeth Cummings and Jelle van den Berg: Your words have beautifully woven the bodies of works together and given a greater depth of understanding through a different perspective of Mary Owen’s practice. Thank you – we are eternally grateful.

 A very special thank you to Anne Flanagan: Someone who has given us unwavering support and encouragement. Even in those early scrambled meetings, you would always get us back on the right track. Your final beautiful piece Radiance brings us to tears with every read. 

To another incredible friend of our mother, Janine Constantine: Who helped edit the words within the art book – no small feat… Thank you! 

To the marketing team, Tammy Saville, Annemarie Dalziel and Muriel Mallet: You have each given so much of your time, expertise and energy to this project. We are so overwhelmed by all that you have done for us and we are eternally grateful to you all. 

To Rhiannon Hopley: While you were commissioned to document the works and design the book, you went above and beyond as you believed in what we were doing so strongly. Thank you for making this process so enjoyable and getting our ideas onto paper.

To Clayton Vitorino and Pete Micallef for helping us build important sculptural frames that will be used for the exhibition. 

To Jess Kavunenko and Juliet McGrath for your hours of help making beautiful merchandise. 

Lastly, thank you to Southern Tablelands Arts for helping us promote this important show and also taking the time and energy to connect with the work and us. 

Circus Santas, Mary Owen

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We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the traditional custodians of the lands where we create, live & work. 

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